This week’s Torah gives us a lot to contemplate. In Parasha Toldot, Jacob deceives his father and brother and steals his brother Esau’s birthright with the help of his mother, Rebecca. The most disturbing part of the portion is the way our patriarch Jacob seems not to care about the feelings of his brother or father, but only about getting what he wants and feels he needs. While Jacob’s behavior is manipulative it seems to me that this week’s Torah portion is asking, do the ends justify the means? Rebecca received a prophecy that Jacob would be the father of the Hebrew people over his brother Esau. However, prophecy works only in so far as one is willing to do the actions that will make that prophecy come true.
This is a story about consequences. This lesson our tradition is teaching us is that God may point us in a direction or try to lay things out for us, but it is up to us to recognize those opportunities and to take advantage of them when they arise. The world is not determined for us, rather it is our obligation to make our own destinies. However, in making our destinies sacrifices must be made and consequences lived with. Jacob’s actions get him what he wants, but at what price? Also, while we should not step on people to get to the top, how do we balance caring for others with achieving our own personal goals?
There is saying in our tradition by the sage Hillel, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” Jacob has to act to make his destiny and dreams come true, he knows that nothing will be handed to him. On the other hand he has to make a decision about what is more important to him: a relationship with his brother and father or to be the father of a great nation. Jacob chooses the ladder. I do not know what the right decision is here. I do not know if the ends justify the means. Jacob suffers throughout the rest of his life by getting what he wants. Therefore even though he gets what he wants, the consequences are great. All decisions we make come with consequence. Therefore, for us, we need to ask ourselves what are we doing to make our dreams and destiny come true and are we willing to live with the consequences of those decisions?
Rabbi Micah Ellenson